Texas was hit this week with what was previously unimaginable in the deep south; a once-in-a-century snow and ice storm. Blanketing the region in record snows among record low temperatures, the storm has already turned deadly and has wreaked untold amounts of damage. As people huddle in their un-winterized homes and hope for warmth, failures in Texas’s independent power grid have deepened woes, leaving hundreds of thousands to fend for themselves. With no real winter gear or stocks to speak of, the unprepared region has been sharing images of suffering, fear, and bitter cold as the rest of the nation watches helplessly from afar.
If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “once in 100 year storm,” at least ten times by now. That’s because the storm blanketing Texas and crippling the southern state is truly a rare occurrence. Like most southern states, Texas is known for its mild winters. With February temperatures that usually range from between 26 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit on their coldest days, even the coolest regions of the state are still mild by any metric.
However, during this week’s storm, some parts of the state have hovered around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving structures, water, and power grids vulnerable to the cold. Texas did face a devastating freeze about a decade ago which could have served as a warning to upgrade their infrastructure to handle more cold, but it was seen as a freak occurrence. However, anthropomorphic climate change has made freak occurrences all too common in recent years.
Texas Abodes Not Designed to Handle Cold Weather
Although those in colder regions of the world have mocked Texans for being devastated by what is mild cold to some of them, the sad reality is that Texas infrastructure is not designed to – and cannot- handle sustained temperatures that cold. Roads designed of materials that promote drainage and control flooding ice and collect snow quickly. Most cities have neither salt trucks nor drivers with chained tires, so getting around town has slowed to a crawl or even stopped in many places. Homes themselves are vulnerable to the frigid temperatures and pictures have circulated on social media of people whose houses have cracked from moisture freezing in the very frames of their homes. Pipes are also bursting from lack of winter insulation, despite valiant efforts from Texans to keep faucets dripping.
In the south, homes are designed to release heat, not hold it in. So those who are lucky enough to have ways to heat their houses are struggling to prevent heat loss through windows and roofs designed to release that same heat. Most southern houses don’t have basements, which allow for an air buffer between a structure and the icy ground, so in Texas, people are feeling the cold creep up through the very ground beneath their feet. Wood-burning fireplaces are few and far between, and most homes don’t have a need for gas burning stoves or fireplaces, leaving them dependent on electricity for warmth and food.
Power Grid Failures Deepen Woes
Unfortunately, that same electricity has become scarce. A push from Texan politicians prompted the state to create its own, independent power grid. As the cold began freezing lines and electricity consumption skyrocketed from people trying desperately to heat houses with inefficient heat pumps, power companies began instituting rolling blackouts to conserve electricity and prevent the grid from crashing. But the overwhelmed grid crashed anyway in places, and the lack of redundant systems left hundreds of thousands literally out in the cold, fending for themselves in an environment they were ill-equipped to survive.
If you talk to Texans, one thing they’ll tell you about this week’s weather is that a lack of basic gear has turned into their worst nightmare. With no real need for heavy winter gear, many people find themselves layering in whatever warm clothes they can find, including robes, sweatshirts, and blankets.
Cases of carbon monoxide poisoning have tragically become commonplace as those lucky enough to have gas powered appliances try to burn gas to stay warm, lacking the experience to know they need to crack a window.
And heat isn’t the only urgent problem facing Texans. Power is being restored across the state, but over 500,000 customers are still without. And water treatment facilities were crippled as well, leaving residents bereft of a safe way to get water. The New York Times shares this grim story; “Residents in the Texas capital, Austin, were also told to boil water because of a power failure at the city’s largest water-treatment facility. And the city of Kyle, south of Austin, asked residents on Wednesday to suspend their water use until further notice because of a shortage.
‘Water should only be used to sustain life at this point,’ officials of the city of 48,000 said in an advisory. ‘We are close to running out of water supply in Kyle.’”
Food has also become a problem as stores were picked clean and then left waiting for new supplies while roads remained closed or nearly impassable. Food banks in the state have hit unmeetable demand as grocery stores, their main suppliers, have less food to pass on. A safety net system already stretched nearly to the breaking point by the pandemic finds itself overwhelmed anew as people venture forth from their icy homes, desperate for basic aid.
The storm has been blamed for over 30 deaths so far, and more inclement weather is expected soon.
Texas Senator Under Fire for Taking Cancun Vaca
It’s against this backdrop of chaos and suffering which Texas Senator Ted Cruz decided it would be a good time to jet off to a Cancun resort with his family. Facing immediate backlash for the tone-deaf, insensitive timing, Cruz then turned around and headed back to the states.
TMZ shares, “[This morning] Sen. Cruz just issued a statement about his Cancun trip, and says … ‘With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.’
If Cruz is saying he went down to chaperone his kids for the flight, he didn’t mention his wife was with them, and she could have done it. BTW, he was carrying a suitcase”.
TMZ later added, “It’s happening — Ted ‘Cancun’ Cruz is dragging his luggage to a flight back to Houston amid all the backlash he’s receiving. We’ll see if his constituents are happy to welcome him home.'”
With More Cold on the Way, Texas Braces Wearily
With more cold weather soon to arrive, people caught in the snow are wearily worrying about what comes next.
Other states across the country have been hit by the same storm and millions of Americans are without power, although Texas has inarguably been the poorest prepared and therefore seen the most suffering. President Joe Biden was quick to approve aid for the state which will flow quickly once roads are open again, and people exhausted from days of icy temperatures will have reprieve – but they have to survive the next few days first. Temperatures are forecast to climb to more seasonable levels over the weekend, a goal which cold Texans have their eyes locked firmly on.